November 2010- Greece

Chris and Deah in Athens, Parhenon

This most recent vacation was really special to me, because it was the first vacation in a long time that Chris and I were able to actually fly to together!  Although we often meet up with each other in a new city or country, such as him flying to Egypt for a long weekend with me or me meeting him in Uganda, it is rare that we are both flying from the same place.  In fact, the last time we were on a flight together was three years ago when we flew to Sao Tome for Christmas!  So it was really nice to be able to fly to Istanbul and then Athens together last week.

We had a long layover in Istanbul and discovered that transit passengers could go on a free day tour of Istanbul.  The airline handled everything and we had a great breakfast, tour, and lunch with a small group of 10, and then back to the airport.  We flew on to Greece the same day and arrived in Athens in the early evening.

Super tired (our flight had left Khartoum at 3:30 am), we slept well and were ready to go see the Acropolis on Thursday.  The huge outcropping of rock with the remains of the temples on it was amazing!  It started to rain, but we really didn’t even mind, as we have spent these last long weeks in the hot dry desert, so the rain to us felt wonderful.

We spent the rest of the day and the next exploring Athens, looking for cozy tavernas to sit in and drink wine, ouzo, and beer while trying dishes such as souvlaki, moussaka, and of course lots of Greek salads.

Sadly, on Sunday Chris had to leave for work, so I headed up to Delphi to see the oracle and see if I could get any advice.  Getting off the bus at the same time as me were two Americans that, it turned out, are teaching in Qatar.  We found a hotel and did some sightseeing, and soon met another lonely traveler who was looking for adventure and had a car.  We all agreed to stay in Delphi another day, eat lots of pork souvlaki, and then head to Meteora together.

Delphi arch ruins Greece
Delphi

On Tuesday we drove up to Meteora and explored the fabulous monasteries there atop the cliffs.  The weather was wonderful and it felt great to be outside.  The view from the monasteries was truly beautiful, and that night we stayed in a great bed and breakfast.

Monastery perched on cliff in meteora greece
Meteora
overview of monastery perched on mountaintop meteora greece
Meteora Monasteries
girls on mountain top in meteora greece
Melissa, Yvonne, and Deah: Meteora
overview of monastery at meteora greece
Meteora

I headed north next, to Thessaloniki, and spent two days there.  Another day of rainy weather, but to me the cool fall weather was a welcome change and I was determined to relish it while I could.  It was bacon for breakfast, pork souvlaki for lunch, and grilled pork chops for dinner, as all too soon it would be time to head back to Khartoum.  In between stuffing myself, I found some Macedonian museums and Byzantine churches to explore as well.

Arch of Gelerius Thessaloniki Greece
Arch of Gelerius, Thessaloniki
statue of alexander ii at thessaloniki sunset greece
Alexander II, Thessaloniki
girl eating pork wrap in greece gyros
Pork Fest 2010

After taking the night train from Thessaloniki to Istanbul, I had two days in the East/West capital and revisited some of my favorite sights of that city.  The Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern are wonderous and I will likely never get tired of them.  I was looking for some of the hanging Turkish lanterns and trying to avoid the ubiqutous carpet sellers while I shopped my way through the Grand Bazaar.  Sadly, the hour did arrive and I was on my way back to Sudan.  Luckily, it’s a bit cooler now that it is November, and with the Caledonian Society ball and a retreat to the Nile River planned for the next two weekends, time should pass quickly and then Adam, Hussam, and I will be on our way to Mt. Kiliminjaro!

Turkey, March 2010

girl next to vase Cappadocia Turkey

I finally got the chance to go to Turkey, a country I have always wanted to visit.  My school needed an extra chaperone for a student trip, so I agreed to go. But then, they needed one less chaperone, so they paid for my flight (because I had already committed the week to the school) but I didn’t have to chaperone any kids. Bonus!!

Istanbul is certainly a fascinating city.  I have never been to a place that has more hotels- but they are small boutique hotels rather than huge nondescript ones.  A bit like all the small ones dotted throughout the French Quarter, but even better.

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The other great thing about Istanbul is the food.  A wonderful blend of Eastern and Western, traditional and fast food.  A great delight for someone coming from Sudan and suddenly craving a Big Mac.  Yes, I admit it.

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Istanbul has so many great sites to see that it is impossible to write about them all.  Of course the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque were first on my list.  The age of those edifices is just staggering.  A couple of walks through the Grand Bazaar, although I didn’t get to go to the Spice Bazaar as I had wanted.  Not one but two trips to the Hamam, the old Turkish bath.  A new experience for me and completely enjoyable.  I could have stayed all day, it was just a desire for more food and more sightseeing that finally pulled me out of the steamy marble baths and back into the cold day.  Because yes, it was quite cold in Istanbul, particularly as here in Khartoum we had already been getting up into the 90’s.

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There are many palaces of the Turkish and Ottomon empire dotted around the city of Istanbul- great places to view the architecture as well as amazing collections of jewels and chandeliers, rugs and furniture that great rulers habitually give each other as gifts.  Wish I had friends like that!

A cruise along the Bosphorous, with a view of Europe to one side and Asia on the other- Istanbul is truly a city that spans two continents as well as two cultures.  Outside of the city, a quick bus trip to Bursa, the silk capital, and a visit to the Silk Market to pick up ties and pashminas made of pure silk.

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One area of Turkey that is rated as a “must-see” is Cappadoccia, home of the underground cave cities and the fairy tale chimneys, a geological formation.  A great two days in the area seeing some amazing sights.

I didn’t get a chance to go to Ephesus or Troy- hopefully  one day I’ll take a cruise of the Greece and Turkey coastline that will make a stop at those places.  I would love to see the ruins of Troy.